Car reviews - Nissan - Pathfinder - ST TDI 5-dr wagon
Turbo torque, seven-seat capability, off-road potential
Room for improvement
Noise levels, firm suspension
26 Oct 2005
NISSAN’S Pathfinder may have found its way into the Australian consciousness, but that’s not because it’s always been a perfect 4WD.
When the first model arrived as a spin-off from the Navara range in the mid-1980s, it was seen as a generally more liveable mid-size 4WD than Toyota’s similarly-conceived, HiLux-based 4Runner.
Fresh with its heavily US-influenced styling it was niftier on the road than the bigger and heavier Patrol, while it wasn’t too bad off-road either.
But its convenience was limited by the fact it only had two doors and, as a general all-rounder, its 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine was only just adequate.
Both shortcomings were finally rectified in 1992 - way too late - when the Pathfinder got both a 3.0-litre, single-cam, 12-valve V6 engine and a four-door body.
But the V6 even then was a bit of a struggler, not hugely powerful although smooth, and not particularly economical either. This engine, in one form or another (it increased in capacity to 3.3 litres in 1995), served the Pathfinder through two models to this year, when the all-new 2005 model finally hit the market.
This much-anticipated replacement of a fondly-regarded 4WD looked to have all the answers: Seven-seat capacity, all-independent suspension, a new, super-refined engine based on the V6 used in the 350Z – and, at last, a turbo-diesel option.
This, is on top of the availability of things like electronic stability control as well as side and curtain airbags at the top of the range.
Plenty to get excited about, and an indicator that the new Pathie was indeed going to be something of a force in the mid-size 4WD segment – especially because it appeared to retain intact all the previous model’s off-road abilities, complete with rugged full-chassis construction.
The truth is that it doesn’t come together as smoothly as you might expect.
The new Pathfinder might be as effective off-road as ever, but the all-independent suspension doesn’t mean it’s a BMW X5 in terms of on-road manners.
The most disappointing thing of all, though, is that while the new 2.5-litre turbo-diesel delivers a swag of power – 403Nm at 2000rpm is nothing to shrug off – it does it with an accompanying cacophony that seems way out of line in this era of super-quiet, super-smooth turbodiesels.
Fortunately it consumes fuel at a rate expected of a modern turbo-diesel. On test, in a variety of operating conditions we averaged 10.3L/100km, which indicates a comfortable cruising range of 700km-plus.
And the Pathfinder turbodiesel has plenty of grunt. With more than 2.2 tonnes (close to 300kg heavier than the outgoing Pathfinder) of full-chassis body to tote, it needs to.
In five-speed automatic form, the new Pathfinder turbo-diesel is quick off the mark and unfazed by any load short of its full three-tonne braked trailer towing capacity.
The sequential-shifting auto contrasts with the rowdy engine (which is related to a 2.2-litre version seen on X-Trails in other markets) by being sublimely smooth and quite intuitive, as good an auto as we’ve seen on any 4WD so far.
It should be said that the engine tends to disappear into the background as speeds rise, meaning that highway cruising at least doesn’t inflict passengers with the sounds of a roaring diesel.
And so to the steering and suspension.
Here, the Pathfinder reveals its intentions with a firm ride that tracks over the bumps okay, but has the stiffness that comes when you are designing for heavy load-carrying abilities. It handles gravel back-roads well, and only once during the test did we experience some crash-though from the back end.
In reality, it’s not bad at all in terms of ride if you’re accustomed to a less cushy setup.
The steering is okay too, but it’s still more 4WD than SUV and is unlikely to impress anyone other than previous Pathfinder owners, who will find it a bit more directional, a bit faster to respond.
As before, the Pathfinder gets Nissan’s All Mode 4WD system, which is essentially 4WD on demand via a multi-plate clutch that can be set to automatically decide when extra traction is needed, via a rotating switch on the centre console.
Set in two-wheel drive mode, the Pathfinder drives from the rear wheels – while in serious conditions the driveline can be locked up in either 4WD high or 4WD low, indicating the Nissan’s off-road heritage.
Brakes are about as good as you can get, with ventilated discs on all corners, as well as four-channel ABS along with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist to give extra shove under emergencies.
If you like the stripped to basics look, you’ll probably appreciate the new Pathfinder, which occasionally brings to mind the stylistic economy of the new Land Rover Discovery.
It retains the signature hidden rear door handles that have been with Pathfinder since it went to four doors, and there’s some very identifiable Nissan language happening up front that is said to be related to the Dunehawk show car seen at the 2003 Frankfurt motor show. The aerodynamic drag figure of 0.38 isn’t too bad for an upright off-roader either.
The interior is less interesting, almost static in terms of design development so that it could be very easily something straight out of the mid 1990s.
In ST form the Pathfinder gets dual front airbags, as well as anti-whiplash front headrests, but lacks the side airbags and curtain airbags (and electronic stability control) fitted further up the chain in the Ti version. It gets air-conditioning, but not climate-control.
ST seats are velour-trimmed with a Citroen-style mesh and are manually adjustable for reach, height and tilt. The driver gets a lever for adjusting the lumbar support. The steering wheel, disappointingly, adjusts only for height, not reach.
But there’s plenty of legroom up front, and grab handles are set into the A-pillars in Jeep Grand Cherokee style - except in this case they seem more easily reachable.
The three rows of seating are welcome, of course, although as you’d expect the rearmost twin-seat arrangement is not to be taken seriously by adults unless they are particularly small, or are only travelling for a few moments. The centre row is okay, but is easily intruded on by tall passengers using all the front-seat adjustment.
All fold easily enough, including the double-fold three-piece centre row, but some muscle power is needed to lift the mini back seats from their retracted, under-floor position.
But a large, spacious area is provided with everything laid flat, lifting load capacity from the meagre 190 litres behind the rear seats to 2091 litres with everything stowed out of the way.
Throw in a bike or two? No problem. Throw in some shopping after a visit to the supermarket? No problem either, as the tailgate is split into two sections, allowing the window to be raised for easy and quick access.
So the packaging is pretty good, and if you are a regular off-roader the Pathfinder will do everything that previous versions did. Probably better.
But is it a tough, uncompromising off-roader or sophisticated SUV? Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised, given its history, that Nissan’s new Pathfinder errs towards the former. It leaves the SUV tag to the new Murano and the compact X-Trail.
As it stands, it raises similar questions to the first iteration so many years ago. It’s got promise, but as yet the new Pathfinder doesn’t quite deliver on everything.
Discussions with other motoring writers who had tested the turbo-diesel Pathfinder led to the suggestion there may have been a fuel-gauge problem with the vehicle originally tested by GoAuto.
It was subsequently discovered that, while there was no actual problem with the Pathfinder’s gauge, it tended to continue registering close to full for quite some time being used.
When the car was collected from Nissan, the gauge incorrectly indicated that the fuel tank was full, leading us to incorrect conclusions at the end of the test.
Subsequent testing of another turbo-diesel Pathfinder confirmed this to be the case, with the average fuel consumption recorded by GoAuto over nearly 500km being 10.3L/100km.
This was significantly different to the consumption indicated with the prior test vehicle. The following text has been modified to embrace the new fuel consumption findings.
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